Electronic products are extremely expensive nowadays. Some phones cost well over a 1,000$, which is definitely not cheap. Rather than spending hundreds and thousands of dollars to purchase a new product, some people may buy refurbished goods instead. However, refurbished goods generally vary in quality and amount of work needed to restore the product.
Sometimes it can be a quick paint job while at other times, it can be replacing crucial components of the device. But would repairing goods that have intellectual property protection raise any issues? The answer is probably going to depend on various factors. Let’s take of some of them.
Certified or Licensed Refurbished Products vs. Non-certified
Licensed or certified refurbished products are products that are returned to the original manufacturer and repaired (if necessary) by the original manufacturer. The product is then restored back to working condition. Moreover, they’re tested and verified that they function properly before being sold. This probably wouldn’t raise much issues. In contrast, non-certified refurbished products generally do the same thing, but it may not be the original manufacturer repairing the goods. This can raise some intellectual property issues.
How would this raise intellectual property issues?
Intellectual property rights in a product can sometimes persist even after the product has been sold to a consumer. For example, let’s say you buy a book that has copyright protection. Although you own that book in particular, you necessarily don’t have the right to make copies or duplicates of that book under copyright law. Another example would be that you have a product like a golf ball protected by trademark law, and you refurbish it. You may or may not infringe on the trademark holder’s rights depending on how much you refurbish that golf ball. Although it seems like merely washing the golf ball or giving it a slight paint job won’t amount to infringement, drastic refurbishment may.
Applying those concepts to electronic goods.
The same basic idea could apply to electronic goods. You can buy software which gives you certain rights to that particular software you bought. But, under copyright law, you can’t reproduce that software and sell it. And for things like iPhones, which are trademarked by Apple, you can see how it would be infringement if the refurbishment or repair was significant. There wouldn’t be much issues if the same certified parts for the iPhone are used before being resold. But it becomes problematic when shoddy non-certified parts are used to repair the phone, which results in the overall product being inferior. Selling inferior products under another’s trademark would therefore hurt consumer good will.
Balancing the rights of consumers and the rightsholder.
When it comes to refurbishment, there’s a tension between the holder the intellectual property rights and the consumers. The rightsholder wants to protect their intellectual property rights. However, giving them too much protection could amount to giving them a monopoly. This would allow them to control the prices. In contrast, if they don’t have enough protection, they could lose the ability to control the quality of their products. If anyone is just allowed to repair iPhones and sell them, then it’s going to be hard to tell which phones are of good quality and which are inferior. Thus, the law should give the rightsholder enough protection to ensure their products have adequate protection. But not so much that it would give the rightsholder complete control over the prices over the products.
More clarification on copyright law.
Copyright law protects original works of arts. This is very broad and the law has given a list of what could qualify for copyright protection. Included in that list would be artwork, movies, songs, lyrics, software codes, and in some instances, architectural works. Pretty neat, huh?
Moreover, the copyright holder has the exclusive right to:
(2) to prepare derivative works based upon the copyrighted work;
(5) in the case of literary, musical, dramatic, and choreographic works, pantomimes, and pictorial, graphic, or sculptural works, including the individual images of a motion picture or other audiovisual work, to display the copyrighted work publicly; and
(6) in the case of sound recordings, to perform the copyrighted work publicly by means of a digital audio transmission.
More clarification on trademark law.
Trademark law protects marks, words, symbols or other indicia that can be source identifiers. The trademark holder has the exclusive right to use the mark in association with their goods or services. Additionally, trademark law protects the brands, slogans, and the design of buildings in some rare instances.
What are your thoughts on refurbishing goods and intellectual property rights? Leave a comment below to let us know what you think!
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Disclaimer: This article is not legal advice. It is only for educational or entertainment purposes only. Please do not use the article or contents of the article without permission. For legal advice and questions, please contact registered Patent Attorney Vincent LoTempio.